x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Al Ahli are ready to take the title fight to the second half

Coach Quique Sanchez Flores says the season is only half way through so no one should coronate Al Ain as league champions just yet.

If Al Ahli is to catch Al Ain for league honours their hopes will rest with Grafite, who scored four times when Ahli defeated Al Ain in the league opener, 6-3.
If Al Ahli is to catch Al Ain for league honours their hopes will rest with Grafite, who scored four times when Ahli defeated Al Ain in the league opener, 6-3.

 

Going into this weekend's 13th round of games in the Pro League, Al Ain's march towards a second successive title seems inevitable with 31 points collected from a maximum 36 thus far as they enjoy a six-point lead at the top of the table.

Al Wahda were the latest side to fall to them this week, going down 2-1, with Branko Ivankovic, the Wahda coach, saying: "They are the best team in the league with quality all around on the pitch."

But Quique Sanchez Flores, the Al Ahli coach, is one man who believes there is plenty of mileage still in the championship fight.

That is of no surprise, really, given his side are second in the table.

Sanchez Flores is also the only coach to taste success against the league leaders as they memorably put them to the sword 6-3 on the opening day of the season, with Grafite netting four goals. No one has got close to replicating that form against the champions since then, but Sanchez Flores is not concerned about that.

"The competition is not over yet," said the Spaniard. "There is still a long way to go and we have the entire second half of the season to play.

"Some teams, like Al Shabab and Wahda, are improving as the season progresses and there are many possibilities still open. So we will keep working hard, focus on getting the right results in our matches and see how things go in the other games."

While Ahli have also lost just once this season, they have shared points in three more matches than Al Ain.

The Dubai club's challenge has also been hampered by their inconsistent performances at home.

Three of their four draws have come at home and they have collected only nine of a possible 18 points at the Rashid Stadium, something they will be looking to improve on beginning with Saturday's home game with Al Dhafra.

Away from home they have dropped only two points in six games - at Al Wasl following a 2-2 draw - and kept their unbeaten record intact with a 2-1 win at Ajman on Tuesday, a result that Sanchez Flores hopes they can use as momentum for the second half of the season.

"This is an important win for us," he said. "Our focus was on winning this game, regardless of the results of Al Nasr and Baniyas [both teams lost in the 12th round], who were our closest challengers for the second spot."

 

arizvi@thenational.ae

 

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